Delay points to NHS in turmoil

MARK NICHOLLS Moves to axe community beds and cottage hospitals across Norfolk suffered an unexpected delay last night amid hopes that health chiefs could be forced into a dramatic re-think over the proposals.

MARK NICHOLLS

Moves to axe community beds and cottage hospitals across Norfolk suffered an unexpected delay last night amid hopes that health chiefs could be forced into a dramatic re-think over the proposals.

Norfolk Primary Care Trust was yesterday about to publish detailed proposals on the future of nine cottage hospitals and 220 community beds across the county when it made the surprise announcement that the controversial plan was being put back a further three weeks.

And while some campaigners were angered by the delay, saying it would “prolong the agony”, others were hoping that the PCT may be reconsidering its plans to re-shape community care in the county.

PCT officials blamed a tight schedule and some unfinished business over administrative issues surrounding a formal public consultation plan as the reason for the delay.

But the timing of it - coming on the day interim chief executive Hilary Daniels and director of commissioning Audrey Bradford left their posts at short notice - fuelled speculation that a review of the plan was on the cards.

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The new interim chief executive Julie Garbutt, who formally takes up office today, has revealed that she intends to “fully familiarise herself with this important issue” over the coming weeks. That includes a schedule to visit as many of the community hospitals as possible.

Speaking to the EDP, she said: “I appreciate there are sensitive issues for local people and staff and I feel that it is important for me to visit as many of these places as I can.”

She said there were no immediate plans to review the work on intermediate care but that the schedule for consultation had been tight and had to be put back pending approval by the East of England Strategic Health Authority.

“We would have preferred not to have the delay but in the circumstances it has been necessary,” said Mrs Garbutt.

Hospitals under threat of closure or having bed numbers cut are Benjamin Court, Cromer; North Walsham Hospital; St Michael's at Aylsham; Cranmer House at Fakenham; Swaffham Hospital; Dereham Hospital; Norwich Community Hospital; Ogden Court, Wymondham; and Kelling Hospital at Holt.

Campaigners fighting to save their community hospitals are being backed by the EDP Save Our Beds campaign, which is calling for as many beds as possible to be retained and for the PCT to listen to all views during the forthcoming 90-day consultation.

At the last PCT board meeting on January 23, broad details of the plan were unveiled, which showed that of the 220 community beds, up to 60 could be axed as more care was moved into patient's homes and delivered by a team of community-based nursing staff. And there was a plan to establish a specialist stroke unit.

But there was no mention of which hospitals would be closed or financial implications.

That detail was due to be put before a special board meeting next Tuesday with the formal public consultation process starting soon after.

But the delays will now see the proposal going to the next board meeting on February 27 and a consultation period running from March 6 to June 5, meaning any final decision will not come through until midsummer.

Last night campaigners had mixed views over the delays.

Aylsham town council chairman Liz Jones said a further delay “prolonged the agony” but made sense if it ensured there was better consultation than there was the last time there were major cutbacks at St Michael's.

Mayor of Wymondham Joe Mooney was planning to present a 3,000-signature petition to the meeting on Tuesday as part of a campaign to keep the unit at Ogden Court in the town open. He now plans to collect more signatures and present it on February 27.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “My hope is that this delay will provide an opportunity for a re-think and that the PCT will acknowledge the extent of the concerns and opposition there is to these very radical plans.”

Of the delay, PCT chairman Sheila Childerhouse said: “It is imperative that the Strategic Health Authority approves our plans for consultation and the slight delay also gives Julie, newly in post in Norfolk, the time to get to grips fully with all the issues and concerns around this work.”

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